Louis Moinet: The Inventor of the Chronograph

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Sometimes history as we know it must be questioned. With so many scientists and inventors given credit for countless “firsts” most of us never stop to beg the question, were they truly the first to discover or create this? The watch industry has recently uncovered such a fault within their own history. The creation of the Chronograph has been accredited to the wrong gentleman for centuries now. Once thought to be the work of Nicolas Rieussec, a Chronograph dating back five years prior to Nicolas’s 1821 timepiece has been found. Watchmaker Louis Moinet created a far more advanced and intricate Chronograph design in 1816. In an interesting turn of events this esteemed piece of watchmaking history ended up at auction where it came into the ownership of modern Louis Moinet CEO and creative director Jean-Marie Shaller. According to Shaller,

“When I started Louis Moinet, I read Moinet’s watchmaking treatise and took very precise notes. I found that he made several developments in watchmaking, and the most amazing one, I thought, was the compteur de tierces, but we only had a description of this timepiece and some private correspondence, in which he mentions, three times, that he went to Paris in 1815 to make this timepiece. We had been looking for this timing device for a long time. Then, the watch came up at auction. We knew that it would be spectacular, because of its high frequency and precision, but I was amazed by the realization that it was, in fact, the first chronograph.”

Not only did he create the first Chronograph but his watch was extremely advanced for its time. It was capable of telling 60ths-of-a-second while maintaining a 30 hour power reserve, which was important considering its original purpose. Moinet needed such a watch for timing his astronomical observations. It also required stop start capabilities so that Moinet could make recordings without ever taking his eyes off the telescope lens. Such precision elicited the Chronograph design. In true Chronograph fashion, elapsed time is displayed on a series of subdials.

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[quote align=”left” color=”#000000″]”I was amazed by the realization that it was, in fact, the first chronograph.”[/quote]

It’s not known whether or not Moinet ever created another example of the Chronograph, but one thing is sure, he never marketed it. In the worlds of Jean-Marie Shaller, “He was a modest man” and only such a modest man could have kept this watchmaking breakthrough to himself.   It would be 100 years before Heuer would match the frequency found in Louis Moinet’s original Chronograph timepiece.

Today, Chronograph watches are one of, if not the most popular design found on the wrist of countless modern gentleman. So hats off to Louis Moinet, the modest man who gave us a timeless design for one of the world’s most practical accessories.